1.  How to solve a problem…

This trait is one I learned indirectly.  Not that I am insinuating that my father does not have problem solving abilities.  I was just far too busy being a self-obsessed teen to learn by his example.

Case and point, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my father bought me a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck (well the driver’s side door was black, but never mind that) and, as could be predicted… I LOVED it.  After passing my driving test through utilizing the power of tears, the world was officially my oyster.  Or… more appropriately, my bumper car track.  The first month I had my license, I hit literally everything in sight…including a parked police car and the main support beam of our car port, but those are separate stories.

One night in particular, ended with me and a group of friends wedged halfway up a snow bank, at a 45 degree angle.  So much of an angle, in fact, that when I pulled the latch on my door, gravity opened it for me… and when I took off my seat belt (yes I was at least responsible enough to wear one), I fell out of the truck and onto a pile of snow.   The original plan had been sledding.

I ended up driving home with the right front blinker hanging by a wire, a massive spiderweb crack in the middle of the windscreen (courtesy of my friend Sara’s head..don’t worry she was fine) and a rear bumper that twisted straight out parallel to the truck and ironically, had a sticker plastered to it which read, ‘SHIT HAPPENS.’

After getting home and owning up to the accident, my father’s disappointed sigh made an appearance.  He grumbled quite matter-of-factly, ‘You can’t drive the truck now, because it’s not legal to be on the road without a visible blinker and the bumper sticking out like that.’

The next morning, I went out to my father’s workshop, grabbed some duct tape and a sledgehammer and taped/pounded my truck back into ‘legality’…much to his dismay.

Problem = solved.

2.  You are the company that you keep…

My dad was not the type of parent that vetted who I spent time with.  As was his way, he normally took a back seat to the roller-coaster that is a teenage girl’s social life, and let me come to him if and when I felt like talking about something…

Often, when I would discuss certain issues that arose within my relationships, (which was likely something as trivial as why Mariah wouldn’t let me borrow her Steve Maddens, when I had lent her my Discman just a week earlier…), he would wryly smile and simply utter, ‘If you walk into a room full of sick people, you’re far more likely to get sick, then to make everyone else healthy.’

Interpret that as you wish, but it’s a saying I have carried close to my heart for years, and find I still need reminding of every so often.

3.  There’s always room for more…

When I was 15, my best friend moved in with us, because her situation at home was no longer bearable.  Though my father had a full-time job, three kids of his own to support and only a one-bedroom house on Iowa Street to call home, he didn’t hesitate for a moment to offer her a safe place to live.  She shared the only bedroom in the house with me (until my father split it into two for my brother as well) for our last years of high school, and he provided for her the in the exact same ways he did for us: physically and emotionally.

I remember stumbling into the living room after a nap one evening, and finding Kyra with my dad, going over some of her pastel drawings together.  How excited he was about the contrast and colouring she chose, how inspired he thought certain pieces were, how talented she was.  Offering ideas and insight as to what other things she could try on future pieces.

As can be expected of most emotionally undeveloped teens, I was more jealous than a bear, who had bear neighbours that lived directly under a bee hive which rained fish.  I couldn’t believe his audacity… giving her so much praise like that!  Praise that should rightfully be reserved only for me (and maybe my siblings, but only in moderation obviously).  In hindsight though, all I see now is a man who opened his home and heart to a child in need, and simply wanted to encourage her to realise her full potential.

It’s a very rare person that would have taken on this level of obligation voluntarily, but my father is just that… a very rare person.

4.  Smile through your struggles…

Like most things my father taught me, this is one I learned through sheer observation.   When my mother left us, my sister, brother and I watched my dad go through what must have been the lowest point in his life…or at least one of them.  He suddenly found himself the single parent of three adolescent kids, on top of his full-time, often overtime, construction work as a 34-year-old man.

Though I was admittedly completely self-involved at the time, it’s only now that I can begin to imagine how emotionally destroyed he must have been.  How many times he must have wanted to let go, fall apart, throw in the towel, call it a day, and other euphemisms for giving up.  Yet, with the exception of an occasional blip, mostly, we were none the wiser.  He somehow managed to maintain a sense of steadiness for us.  To laugh genuinely, attend school events, take us out in the evenings or at weekends and unreservedly care for us and our cats, dogs, iguanas, fish, birds and a duck…(standard house pets, of course) as if everything were just fine.  And we got through it, thanks to him.

Countless evenings, had he come home from a long day of manual labour and made the best macaroni and cheese ever, shortly after walking through the door.  Though, that never stopped me from griping about the added onions (which I now love), without so much as a ‘thank you.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everything was perfect, far from it actually…he’s human too, and he’d be the first to tell you so.  But the important thing was, he was there and he kept at it, not through gritted teeth, but with warmth and a silent endurance, the likes of which I can only aspire to myself, when times are tough.

5.  What love is…

When I got caught shoplifting (lip gloss and Chinese fried rice of all things), my dad turned up to collect me from Carrs with nothing more than exasperation and disapproval written all over his face.  When I phoned him from a house-party around 1am because I was too drunk to drive, he picked me up and uttered only one sentence on the way home; ‘I’m very disappointed in you, Little One.’  For me, this simple phrase was much worse, than any typical ‘punishment’ he could have doled out.

The night before the SATs, he sat awake on my bed…. quietly waiting in the dark for me to return home after sneaking out with friends (and boys of course).  The moment I fell through the window onto his lap at 6am, he simply rubbed his temples and sighed, ‘I’ve realised you are going to do whatever you want, regardless of how I feel.  From now on, I’m not going to try and stop you, but please, just tell me where you are and who you are with, so I know that you’re safe…and stay in school.’  So I did.

No matter how many times I f***ed up, and be under no illusions, there were many, he was always there with both a wounded look and a helping hand.  If I painted a picture, wrote a story, scribbled a poem, performed in a play or danced in a recital, he came equipped with a twinkly tear in his eye, a big hug and the simple yet powerful expression, ‘I’m so proud of you, Little One.’

I always knew I was a precious, integral, unconditionally lovable and highly valued part of his life…even when I was at my worst.  It’s no easy job to instill those feelings in someone with a mother-sized hole to fill, but somehow, he pulled it off.  That’s love.

6.  There’s always space to grow…

Whenever my dad made a mistake, not only did he own it, he then went on to do everything in his power to learn from it and not repeat it in future.  At one point, he even elected to participate in anger management and parenting classes, with the express intention of becoming a better father.  Not many people I’ve known are as introspective and motivated to tackle their inner demons as him…myself included.

Other miscellaneous insights and skills I can also attribute to my paternal unit:

  • Babies make hilarious faces when they eat lemons.

  • How to swim.

  • How to ride a bike.  Though, I’m still quite resentful about his blatant deceit, when he repeatedly promised not to let go and then suddenly shouted, ‘Go girl!’ from 20 feet behind me…ultimately causing me to eat s*** and have to start all over again.  Also, as the houses, cars and bushes around my neighbourhood would attest to, he could have taught me how to brake a bit better as well.

  • Don’t have a guitar?  No problem.  Playing the steering wheel is just as effective.

  • Santa lives ‘only in our hearts.’  (He must have been short on cash that Christmas).

  • If the glass on your microwave door was broken following an incident where a remote control was hurled across the kitchen in anger, fret not. You can still use it regularly, provided everyone in the general vicinity of said microwave waits outside while it’s running.  Failing that, put a metal colander on your head.  Safety first.

  • How to drive a stick, parallel park a ‘Chester Molester’ sized van, check and change the oil and windshield fluid, and to jump (and bump) start a car.

  • Bear spray is not just for hiking and camping in the Alaskan wilderness.  It’s equally effective on creepy perverts.

  • Eating scrambled eggs that have been sitting out for two days will make you violently ill.

  • If you burn your butt on a radiator…it’s your own damn fault.

  • If a normally Caucasian looking male suddenly appears to have a bloated, Asian-like appearance, he may be suffering from an allergic reaction to peanuts.

  • People can be very generous, provided you ask for something (i.e. money) mid riveting documentary about the Dung Beetle.

  • How to paddle a canoe; solo, front, back and tandem.

  • The best ride at the Alaska State Fair is the Zipper, bar none.

  • There is very little in life that cannot be fixed with a hug.

  • The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are pretty great.

  • ‘No Fear’ shirts are durable enough to last long after the fad has ended.

  • If you left it too late to get a Christmas tree, children make excellent look-outs/assistants while you saw one down by the side of the highway.

  • How to use a measuring tape, hammer, saw, screwdriver, drill, etc.

  • How amazing beer and pretzels are together.

  • How to paint a room yellow…with a blue ceiling.

  • Costco is the best place to buy literally everything.

  • How to be a parent.

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